CHAPTER 5
GOETHE'S FAUSTIAN PHYSICS AND METAPHYSICS
(1749-1832)

Goethe possessed a cerebral and visceral thirst for knowledge and partook fully in the life experience. As a Promethean, he required independence in the aesthetic, philosophical, and scientific domain and fought for it when necessary. Any creative spirit, he suggested, defines himself through his work. He therefore must affirm his ideations and refuse to be bound by any personal or collective force that might curb his imagination or destroy his individual message. Goethe believed in the value of struggle as a social and artistic symbol. He admired effort, action, and will. In his youth he strongly identified with Prometheus, as attested to by his poem of the same name ( 1774). In his Autobiography Goethe tells us:

The fable of Prometheus became a living force in me. The old Titan web I cut up according to my own measurements, and without further reflection, began to write a piece in which was painted the difficulty Prometheus was placed in, with respect to Jupiter and the later gods, as a result of making men with his own hands, giving him life with Minerva's aid, and founding a third dynasty. 1

If the creative individual has a message, Goethe suggested, he must be courageous, warlike, kindhearted, and a peacemaker like Prometheus. Goethe himself was a complexio oppositorum: rebellious and reverent, a skeptic with faith, clear-sighted and passionate, sensual and spiritual, energetic and passive. 2

In his youth--perhaps because he was imbued with that Promethean élan--Goethe dreamed of creating a homunculus. And with the passage of years, his vision developed into the fictional character of Homunculus in Faust II. But unlike

-133-

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The Prometheus Syndrome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • By the Same Author ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 10
  • Chapter 1: Prometheus 11
  • Notes 49
  • Section I Man as Creator *
  • Introduction to Section I 51
  • Chapter 2: Albertus Magnus 55
  • Chapter 3: Paracelsus 75
  • Chapter 4: Rabbi Judah Loew 97
  • Chapter 5: Goethe's Faustian Physics and Metaphysics (1749-1832) 133
  • Section II the Ordeal of Reason *
  • Introduction to Section II 155
  • Chapter 6: Voltaire's MicromÉgas 161
  • Chapter 7: Balzac's in Search of the Absolute (1799-1850) 185
  • Chapter 8: Hermann Hesse 207
  • Section III Toward Integration *
  • Introduction to Section III 237
  • Chapter 9: Malraux 239
  • Conclusion 267
  • Selected Bibliography 271
  • Index 279
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